When Major League Baseball began its Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities program in 1989, it was done in no small part because the sport was losing out to football and basketball in terms of popularity among black youths.
Part of the roadblock was due to the cost of the sport -- equipment, uniforms, entry fees and the expense of maintaining a field.
But as the newest entrant in the program, Macon now has the ability to defray those costs for youths who want their turn at bat.
Tuesday, officials announced the partnership of Major League Baseball with the United Way of Central Georgia, Macon Little League and the Boys and Girls Club of Central Georgia to provide everything that participants will need.
“Today’s a great day for Macon,” Jeff Battcher, Macon’s RBI administrator, said at a news conference at the Buck Melton Community Center. “Now there’s no excuse. If you want to play baseball in Macon, Georgia, now you can play baseball or softball in Macon, Georgia.”
Battcher said he thought Macon would be a good fit for the RBI program after watching the World Series two years ago, when it was noted that there was just one black player, Boston’s Quintin Berry, between the rosters of both the Red Sox and Cardinals.
“I saw (an ad) during the World Series that talked about RBI,” he said. “I started to place calls, emails. To get Major League Baseball to acknowledge you, you have to show a real need and the ability to back up the program.”
Macon RBI will start with four teams for boys ages 11 and 12 and two softball teams for girls 18 and under. About 75 children are expected to participate during the initial season, which will begin in April and run through part of the summer at Tom Fontaine Park, the home of Macon Little League.
Battcher said there’s a $25 fee to participate, but the fee will be waived if a participant can’t afford it. One of the benefits of working with Major League Baseball, he said, is that Macon RBI will qualify for significant discounts from such top equipment manufacturers as Rawlings, Majestic and Mizuno.
Besides providing the opportunity to play baseball, Battcher noted that Major League Baseball offers $5,000 college scholarships to participants who qualify.
Bernard Snell, president of Macon Little League, said the RBI program promotes the value of school to its participants as well as educates them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. He also said Little League coaches will benefit from the program.
“We’re going to have a more-informed staff and it will improve their skills,” he said. “This is the best thing to happen to Tom Fontaine Park.”
Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert, who attended the event, said “it’s wonderful news for the entire community.
“It promises new opportunities for baseball and our inner-city youth,” he said. “We’ve needed a program like this for a long time.”
Several former professional baseball players attended the event, including recent Georgia Sports Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Hendley, former Atlanta Braves reliever Greg McMichael and Robert Scott, a Macon native who played in the Negro Leagues.
Jami Gaudet, who for years helped organize summer baseball camps with her husband, Jim, announced that participants in youth baseball will march behind Jim Gaudet when he’s grand marshal of the Cherry Blossom Festival parade this Sunday. They will give away 2,000 doughnuts to children wearing baseball apparel.
Battcher said a second announcement about the Macon RBI program is coming in the next 30 days, but he declined to give details.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.